Everyone has sinister fantasies. Quiet secrets and inner desires of being a witch, casting spells – there’s a little devil in us all. We all crave power, covet things we shouldn’t want, and seek even the slightest feign of rebellion against authority figures who attempt to control us. Whether we face down our demons by picking our poison at a local bar with friends, attending an ear-shattering show, or adorning our bodies with skin-deep forever portraits, one way or another, we all tap into something we’ve been taught to ignore. We all want to be a little evil.
Movies allow us to flirt with the darkness without going overboard with experimentation. In its own special way, film is a portal into other universes, a crystal ball that projects alternate dimensions and sinful scenarios that we might normally never tip a pinkie toe into, and yet, here it is, so easy to access and stimulating to see. That’s why demonic movies can be so much fun to watch, and that’s why, on the heels of the holiest of days, this writer is delivering unto thou a list of the very best satanic movies to watch.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968)
It’s always a pleasure seeing Christopher Lee barking out orders about how to avoid the devil, showing the amateurs how to cast our spirits with a slight, annoyed wave of his hand, and The Devil Rides Out is no exception. In the film, Lee, a.k.a. Nicholas, attempts to save the lives of Simon and his friend Tanith, lest they be stolen by a local satanic group and used to serve the devil. Together, Nicholas and his old friend Rex Van Ryn try to protect their friends from the satan worshippers, who seek to baptize the youngsters in a ritual to sell their souls. Terence Fisher’s 1968 masterpiece is a gorgeous picture, filled to the brim with fascinating depictions of the dark arts, all culminating in a showdown between good and evil where no one is safe and everyone is susceptible to the power of Satan.
THE SENTINEL (1977)
Michael’s been begging Alison to move in with him for what seems like forever, but Alison, terrified that she’ll wind up like her mother, is determined to remain independent. That’s why when he asks her to marry him and come live rent-free in his fancy condo, Alison uses what little money she’s made from modeling to rent a cheap Brooklyn apartment and live alone. Although initially proud of her decision, Alison soon finds the real reason that she found a place to live that’s so affordable: it resides over the gates of Hell. Truly unnerving and wickedly atmospheric, The Sentinel is not one to be missed – even if only for the few moments where you get to see young and yet-to-be-famous Jeff Goldblum in a distractingly deep v-neck ensemble.
THE WAILING (2016)
There’s a strange disease going around a small village in South Korea, and it’s causing a myriad of murders. No one knows exactly what’s causing the sickness to spread, but it all seems to lead back to the day that the Japanese stranger entered the premises. He lives up in the mountains, and the trail that leads the way to his home is littered with photos of the deceased and shrines bejeweled with goat heads and gore. Officer Jong-Goo knows he must investigate the situation, for the sake of his family, and his hometown, but little does he know that if he had just stayed away from the odd old man up in the hills, his daughter never would’ve come down with the same sickness that’s been permeating every corner of this little Goksung town, and he never would’ve had to call upon a priest to extract the demons that now plague her tiny soul. If you haven’t seen The Wailing, stop what you’re doing right now and watch it. As if it weren’t hauntingly gorgeous enough on its own, just wait until you see the exorcism scene.
Okay, so technically, if you wanted to get down to brass tacks, this is less a movie about Satan and more a movie about this demon called ‘The Blind One’, but hey, I would use any excuse to put his ridiculously awesome, brutal and bloody film on this list. Written and directed by Jason Lei Howden, Deathgasm is a story about a bored teenage boy named Brodie who stumbles upon – or steals, if you wanna get technical about it – an ancient text which contains old music for some heavy metal jams. Already in a band with his buddies, Brodie and his best friend Zakk decide to learn the riffs and play them loud, an action which inconsequently leads to the end of the world. Unwittingly, the boys summon a primeval being, and inadvertently turn all of their friends and loved ones into ravenous monsters. Now, it’s up to the gang, along with Medina, the babe whom Brodie carries the biggest torch for, to battle the bloodsucking fiends that swarm in from every angle, and find a way to end the apocalypse before it’s too late.
THE DEVILS (1971)
Does it even really count as a Satanic film if Ken Russell didn’t direct it? It’s a question worth asking, especially when there’s such proof of his wicked mastery in a little film called The Devils. The Devils is the realest deal. In it, Father Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed nun named Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), and chaos ensues. One of the earliest films on this list, Ken Russell helped pave the way for the over-the-top taboo films we know today. His blasphemous bravery and unabashed artistic expression permitted other younger filmmakers to come forth and make the movies they wanted to make, without fear of being cast out of the film world forever. In his own way, Russell not only crafted a beautifully shot film, but pushed the envelope just a little bit father in cinema, thereby helping everyone who came after.
THE BELIEVERS (1987)
After his wife dies in a freak accident in Minneapolis, Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen) moves him and his son Chris to New York City where he attains a job as a police psychologist for the New York City Police Department. Finally, Cal feels that his family is safe, but unbeknownst to him, a series of brutal and inexplicable murders are about to begin sweeping through the town, and all of the victims are small children. Suddenly, the last person Cal has left is put in danger, as his little boy becomes the latest target of the cult that’s sacrificing kids in antique brujeria rituals. Will Cal be able to end a practice that’s existed longer than he’s been alive? Only time will tell, as the innocents of the city fall helplessly at his feet, and the power of black magic permeates the very air he breathes.
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (2015)
There’s something looming in the incandescent quiet of the halls of the boarding room at school, and it’s coming for Joan and Kat. It’s making them do evil things, whispering to them in the dark about ill deeds that need doing, and offering putrid penance in exchange for their crimes. The serpent in the garden come to spill secrets and spread knowledge. Soon, Kat has all kinds of new ideas, and begins practicing them on her classmates and her friends. Ideas that leave bloody handprints on the walls and heads in fireplaces. She is but a servant of Satan, sworn to do his bidding, and although reluctant at first, this once shy school girl now happily bends to the will of Beelzebub. Then sadly, the day dawns when the devil has left her soul, and she is alone again, a mere mortal full of sin. How far will she go to get him back again? The directorial debut from Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins), The Blackcoat’s Daughter is eerily whimsical. Taut, intense, and superbly acted by Kiernan Shipka, this little indie gem is an all-timer satanic flick.
JOHN CARPENTER’S PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)
John Carpenter doesn’t usually come to mind when thinking about satanic films, but the master of horror actually danced with the devil back in the late eighties under the façade of a sci-fi thriller, when he wrangled up a gang of puffy-haired youngsters and trapped them in a church with an experiment gone wrong. It’s actually quite brilliant because it’s so different from every satanic movie that came before it, and honestly, after it as well. People typically go for an angle a la The Exorcist, but Carpenter was never really one to blend in with the crowd. That’s why when it came time for the man to show his version of ‘Ol Scratch, Carpenter went with scientists typing on computer, collecting data, and ultimately accidentally morphing one of their own into the son of Satan, who then tries to bring his dad into the land of man. It’s such an unusual approach, and yet, it works so well. The tension is so heightened throughout the entire picture, and the final scene is one of the most intense and upsetting finales in all of his work. If you’ve never seen it, or it’s been a while, go watch John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, and praise the Unholy Prince by way of the man who gave us The Thing.
THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971)
When the scathing reviews of his latest performance unmercifully begin to roll in, Myles Clarkson knows once and for all that his career as a pianist is over. Trying his best to cope and live his life, Clarkson befriends an older, much more famous player named Duncan Mowbray Ely. Soon after their friendship begins, Ely’s life ends, but as this old Satanist has been planning for quite some time, when his death occurs, his soul switches into Clarkson’s body, an act so sly that not even his wife notices. Suddenly, Clarkson is a star, his hands fly as though of their own accord on the piano, and he brings weeping audiences to their feet, night after night, just like he’s always dreamed. But how long can this spell last until someone sees the devil in the room?
THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975)
Young William Shatner shirtless, bearing a carved pentagram in his chest, Ernest Borgnine as the High Priest of the Church of Satan, queen Ida Lupino in a devil-worshipping flick – honestly, what more could you want from a movie? The Devil’s Rain has it all. Directed by Robert Fuest, this story tells the tale of a Satanic cult leader who’s burned at the stake, but casts a spell that allows him to return hundreds of years later to wreak vengeance upon the descendants of those who did him dirty. Oh, did I mention that when people sell their souls to Satan and join the cult, their eyes melt out of their heads? Why are you still reading this? Go watch The Devil’s Rain.